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Web usability: web writing gone wrong »

FERDY CHRISTANT - JUN 17, 2009 (05:58:22 PM)

Having invested a bit in learning a bit about the usability of user interfaces I tend to look at websites differently now. I spot flaws and broken design conventions even when I'm not looking for them. Although I am of course not a real authority on usability I do have a strong drive to express my views.

Today this came to mind:

It's a technical article on the MySQL site. It breaks quite a lot of web writing rules:

  • It is a wall of text that is extremely uninviting to read. Web writing is different from normal writing. Web writing means you cut 50% of your text, since web users do not read your text, they only scan text.
  • The block of text has almost no indicators of structure, no headlines, bullet lists, highlighted parts. It is not scannable.
  • It takes a lot of reading before you actually know what the article is about.
  • The column is far too wide. In fact, it is as wide as your screen is, whilst web writing rules says that beyond a certain limit in width (let's say 600 pixels) readers have trouble finding the next line when they are at the end of a line.
  • Hardly any white space is used, whilst it is white space that can bring peace and structure to long pieces of content. The side margins are practically zero and stick to the edge of your browser window and the navigation sidebar on the left. Somehow there is plenty of white space between lines though, in fact too much I would say.

All of this seems like nitpicking but usability studies report that web users are extremely impatient and that web writing really is a much different ball game than classic writing. Additional web writing rules not broken by the example above, yet that apply in general:

  • Write at a 6th grade reading comprehension level
  • Cut the marketing speak, get to the point
  • Avoid fancy words and especially made-up words

Surely I have broken many of these rules myself, but it's never too late to change.

PS: no offense intended at the MySQL website, article and author. I was merely refering to how the content is presented.

Comments: 1

COMMENT: JAY homepage

JUL 13, 2009 - 09:40:10 PM

comment » All good points - 100%. You could have done something about the author, pic etc in terms of keeping private, unless of course u if u had the go ahead from the person. Just a thought :) «

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